Have you ever had that moment when you’re striding down the street purposefully, thinking super-important thoughts, carrying your morning choice beverage and feeling damn good?
Then you catch sight of yourself in a random shop window and suddenly your self-assurance plummets because that weird face you’re seeing in the reflection is not what you expected you looked like...And then you internally smack yourself because hey, it’s not about what you look like, it’s how you feel that matters.
Well, that basically sums up the lesson of ‘I Feel Pretty’ starring Amy Schumer and directed by Marc Silverstein (The Vow) and Abby Kohn (He’s Just Not That Into You). The premise of the film – and this doesn’t count as a spoiler because it’s in the trailer – is about how Renee Bennett (Schumer), a cisgender woman living in New York, undergoes an extreme self-esteem makeover when she hits her head during a spin-cycle class. This hit to her noggin’ deludes Renee into believing that she’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and she suddenly has the self-confidence to achieve everything she ever wanted to – get her dream job, find her dream boyfriend, and look exactly like she’s always wanted to: pretty.
When I saw the trailer for this movie, a little part of me celebrated; here’s a movie that’s going to deal with a complex body image issue in an image-centric world. But by the end of the film, I was more concerned about the state of the healthcare in the US (seriously, she was knocked out cold and the gym didn’t call a doctor??) I was slightly disappointed - but that’s probably because my expectations were too high. The film’s message? One that we are told relentlessly, that beauty is only skin deep, and it is how you treat people, strangers and friends alike, how you present your ideas, how you manifest your passions and values, which matter.
All true, all worthy concepts, but could they have been dealt with in a more sophisticated way? Methinks yes. At times, it felt almost like the film was telling/shouting the message that ‘pretty’ is a feeling, rather than just showing a story. Sure, it was fun to watch, there were many great lol moments and Schumer’s performance, while a variation on other character’s she’s played, was still hilarious to behold. Was it unconventional, ground-breaking cinema? No. But it didn’t need to be, and honestly I shouldn’t have expected it to be. It was warm, feel-good entertainment with Schumer’s characteristic vivacity and profanity.
However, it felt like there was something missing from the film, and it wasn’t just the fact that it was lacking the sharp, sociological critics Schumer would have integrated into the writing had she written the script (it was written by the directors). It wasn’t the initial problem I had with the conceit which was that you can only have self-confidence if you think you are conventionally beautiful (a message the film was trying to debunk, although I’m not sure they were 100% successful). It wasn’t just the lack of ethnic, sexual or religious diversity (white, cisgender female lead with white, cisgender female friends…come on, guys). It was the fact that, right at the end of the film *spoiler altert*, Renee Bennett’s career is saved because she helps an exclusive, expensive make-up brand launch a line for ‘bargain-shopper women’ (their words, not mine) and uses the positive message about image and beauty to sell beauty products. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, all health-care products do that. I just found it completely ironic that a film trying to send a message about positive body image would use make-up as an important plot device. I guess it was as conventionally, safely didactic as Hollywood can get.